If you want to have some fun at a video game trade show, talk to the floor models.
Some won't say a word, often because they are contractually forbidden to. Some valiantly try to stay in character, which isn't easy when you're trying to channel a valkyrie or night elf. Some may outright mock show attendees. But very few will be able to talk about games.
Yvonna Lynn noticed this in 2005 when she was working a "Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess" exhibit at Nintendo's E3 booth. While other "booth babes" would hide in the back rooms during their breaks, she found herself sprinting around the Los Angeles Convention Center, trying to take in the show and occasionally speaking with some of the other models.
"I was appalled to find that so few of the girls played video games," she says. "I decided then that it would be really fun to run an agency that offered models who are also gamers."
After stirring the idea around in her head for a few years, it finally came to life a year ago in the form of Charisma+2. And while the company is hardly the largest trade-show modeling agency around, it's growing — and has managed to attract a fair bit of attention in a short period of time.
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This year, Charisma+2 will staff booths at ComicCon, QuakeCon and E3, among others. And Lynn, along with several of her models, was asked to pose for an upcoming 'girl gamer' issue of Playboy magazine. (She declined. Five of the models did photoshoots, but it's unknown how many, if any, will make it into the issue.)
Booth babes are typically a part of a convention's scenery. They’re there to draw attention to the exhibitor — and perhaps pose for pictures — and not much more. Lynn, though, says she believes having a model that's enthusiastic about the product can ultimately boost interest in the product.
"It's hard to convey the fact to companies that it's not just a pretty girl that matters," she admits. "The gamers love the idea of a booth babe who actually knows how to play games."
Models tend to average $20 to $25 an hour working a show. ("Specialty" models — those who are dressed scantily, give demos or have other particular skills with a game — make more.)
Initially, Lynn looked to her own gaming roots to find women to staff her company. Most were gamers she had met through her years of playing online. Today, the company represents more than 100 models, with the large majority being students in their 20s who are looking to make a little extra cash.
All of them, though, are required to be enthusiastic about the industry.
"I ask them to tell me what their favorite games are," says Lynn. "They don't have to be good. They just have to know it and have a passion for it. … The girls who aren't into [gaming] typically aren't interested in being with Charisma+2."
While the company's focus is on modeling, Lynn says she also encourages her employees to make gaming connections of their own when they’re working a show.
"The main idea is to help these guys and girls get their foot into the door in an industry they normally would not have access to," she says. "That's especially true with the ladies, because this is such a hard industry for women to break into."
The strategy has had some success stories. One model now works at id Software, doing quality assurance for several of the developer's upcoming games. And Lynn herself did voicework for a character in id's "QuakeLive."
Id, obviously, has a special bond with Charisma+2. It all started when Lynn was working at a Viper Owners Invitational event in Dallas (an event where owners of the car are invited to view new concept cars, mingle and drive their cars without fear of a ticket on a local speedway).
Todd Hollenshead, CEO and co-owner of id, was there and happened to be wearing a ballcap with the distinctive logo from the company's "Wolfenstein" franchise. The game, it turns out, was one of Lynn's favorites.
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Without knowing who he was, she says, "I threw up the horns and said 'Wolfenstein! I love that game!'"
After talking, Hollenshead got her contact information. A month later, he called to ask her to be a model at the company's upcoming fan convention QuakeCon.
Things took off from there.
We couldn't help asking Lynn, though, about her feelings on the term "booth babe." Did she find it offensive or perhaps one of those labels you simply have to deal with when you're a model?
"I don't really have a problem with the term," she says. "I love being a booth babe! This is a marriage of everything I've been. Growing up, I was a tomboy, but I was also sort of girly. This is a perfect blend of both of those things."